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DeKalb County touts drop in sewer spills

A DeKalb County Watershed worker posts sewage spill notifications on along Miriam Lane near Gena Drive in Decatur, where frequent sewage overflow occurrences have been cited. DeKalb County is still tackling ongoing sewer issues since CEO Michael Thurmond took over in 2017. DeKalb County is under a federal consent decree to repair its aging and overwhelmed wastewater system and has dedicated more than $300 million to the cause in recent years. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
A DeKalb County Watershed worker posts sewage spill notifications on along Miriam Lane near Gena Drive in Decatur, where frequent sewage overflow occurrences have been cited. DeKalb County is still tackling ongoing sewer issues since CEO Michael Thurmond took over in 2017. DeKalb County is under a federal consent decree to repair its aging and overwhelmed wastewater system and has dedicated more than $300 million to the cause in recent years. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The first few months of the year saw some 20 million gallons of sewage pour out of DeKalb County's aging infrastructure.

But officials want you to know that things have been a lot better since.

In a press release distributed late Thursday, the county said that the second quarter of 2020 brought a total spill volume of just 178,097 gallons.

There were no major spills — defined as 10,000 gallons or more — in June, the first such month since the fall of 2018. June’s total spill volume of 15,015 gallons was also the lowest for a month since 2016, officials said.

“In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued to keep our attention on key priorities like improving the county’s sewer system,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said in a news release. “With the continued support of the Board of Commissioners and the hard work of county employees, we are making measurable success.”

ExplorePREVIOUS COVERAGE: Despite spate of sewer spills, DeKalb CEO says progress being made

DeKalb entered a federal consent decree in 2011 to improve its long-neglected sewer system and eliminate spills to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Neglect, mismanagement and corruption produced years of little progress — and the consent decree's original deadline on June 20 of this year passed with the county still a long, long way from fulfilling its promises.

The case was reopened last month in Atlanta’s U.S. District Court and assigned to a new judge. County officials and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division have confirmed that a new agreement is being hashed out but have otherwise provided few details.

Asked for an update Friday, a DeKalb County spokesman said only that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Thurmond took office as DeKalb’s chief executive in 2017 and has claimed the sewer system as a priority. But he regularly describes the overhaul as “a process, not an event.”

As Thurmond sees it, the county is in the third year of what will be a decade-long, billion-dollar project.